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Originally published Tuesday, April 22, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Bothell runner making comeback of his life

Spring cannot come quickly enough. Real spring, that is, when the chance for four inches of snow in April recedes and warmth returns. Because when it does...

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BOTHELL — Spring cannot come quickly enough. Real spring, that is, when the chance for four inches of snow in April recedes and warmth returns. Because when it does, Bothell senior Jaimeson Jones will ditch his shirt by the Bothell track before his daily run and reveal his scars in full daylight.

Three Zorro slashes branded into his upper body, which Jones wears proudly because, like lines on a palm, each scar tells a tale in a way he rarely does.

They tell stories of a disease that could have killed him, surgeries that could have left him paralyzed, and an experience that changed his life — for the better.

"This has been the best thing that has ever happened to me, by far," Jones says. "I would not be half the person I am today otherwise."

Jones is talking about cancer.

He talks about the "old Jaimeson" before cancer and the "new Jaimeson" that emerged from it. "New Jaimeson" is more tolerant, more motivated and much more talkative.

"The hospital bed is where immaturity goes to die," he wrote in his college entrance essay.

Cancer struck in November 2004, just weeks after he finished the fall as the Northshore School District's second-fastest freshman distance runner.

It started with a pain in his chest, as if his heart was digging into his rib cage. The he felt a pain, as he puts it, "down below." When Tylenol couldn't help, he reluctantly went to a urologist, who confirmed the family's fears: Jones had testicular cancer.

The cancer snaked upward to Jones' neck, fortunately missing his organs. The oncologist told Jones he had only a 45 percent chance to live. He responded to the chemotherapy, but it left him with a bald head and clammy scalp, bad acne and about 20 extra pounds. He fell asleep in class and couldn't think when he was awake.

After four three-week sets of chemotherapy, his blood work showed the cancer was fading. But a CT scan showed he had several threatening masses — though not malignant — scattered through his upper body. He had three surgeries in Indianapolis by the same doctors who treated Lance Armstrong.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted the family, putting a scare into everyone. "That's for people who are going to die," Jones thought.

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Jones' first surgery, by far the riskiest, cut a swath across his right side and came dangerously close to his spine. The second cut vertically down the middle of his abdomen, to his waist.

He could barely walk when his sophomore year began, but his parents convinced him to go back to cross country anyway. He set a goal to finish an entire race before the season ended.

He did it in the final home meet.

A pack of friends, coaches and family waited at the finish line. They clapped, they screamed, they wiped away tears. With a pair of girls running behind him rooting him on, Jones plodded through the final stretch.

A week later, he had the third surgery. This time they cut a line across the left side of his neck and halfway down his chest to remove the last of the cancerous masses. He returned home in time to watch Bothell's varsity runners in the KingCo 4A Conference meet. Jones told himself, "Before I leave Bothell, I'm going to go with those guys to state."

But the latest surgery meant another comeback. He had to start all over at walking once again. When he ran the 1,600 meters in the final meet of his sophomore track season, Jones finished 59th out of 64 runners.

"I didn't want to be just good, considering," he says. "I wanted to be good, period."

He trained every day the next summer. He changed his diet, renouncing fast food and going all organic. And by fall his junior year, he was moving up toward the top JV runners. In the spring, he finished second at one JV meet in the 3,200.

He felt he was so close to making the varsity cross-country team that he overworked himself last summer. He suffered a stress fracture just days before the season.

"If he had been healthy before the season, he would have been a top-seven runner," said his coach, Robert Eichelsdoerfer.

When he returned, he quickly made up ground on his teammates. He closed with a strong three-week stretch, punctuated by the KingCo 4A meet. There, Jones beat his personal best in the 5K by 52 seconds.

"I ran myself so hard I couldn't stand," Jones said.

And with that final stretch, Jones moved up to become an alternate for Bothell at the state cross-country tournament.

"I realized I had finally gotten my goal," Jones said.

More setbacks have followed. In December, he had a benign baseball-sized growth removed from his side, and he has also had running-related knee injuries. He could be resting right now in his final high-school days. But he keeps coming back to the track.

"The feeling I get when I run, it's the best feeling ever," Jones says. "Especially when I finish a race. That's a lot of what I live for."

Tom Wyrwich: 206-515-5653 or twyrwich@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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